Several reports have confirmed that Seahawks defensive line coach Todd Wash, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in his first year with Seattle, is in Philadelphia today, taking in Temple University’s pro day. Of specific interest to Wash and the other talent evaluators there is defensive end/tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, quite possibly the most talented and coveted smaller-school player in the 2011 draft class.
Projected by most draft experts as a early-to-late second round pick, Wilkerson would fit the Seahawks very well as a complement to Red Bryant at the all-important five-technique position. Clearly, the team is looking for reinforcements behind Bryant after their run defense imploded when Bryant went down for the season with a Week 8 MCL injury.
In 36 games with the Owls, Wilkerson put up 144 tackles (88 solo), 17 sacks (15 solo), 11 passes defensed, five forced fumbles, and five quarterback hurries. At 6-foor 4 and 315 pounds, Wilkerson is one of the more intriguing prospects in this draft class. He possesses tackle power, but also has the agility of a basketball player. The only defensive tackle heavier than Wilkerson who ran a faster 40 than his 4.96 was Alabama’s Marcell Dareus, the #1 overall tackle on many boards. And his 10-yard split of 1.73 put him in the top ten among all tackles.
According to Russ Lande of the Sporting News, Wilkerson really impressed those in attendance.
Sources said he showed the athleticism, balance, quickness and smooth movement skills that excite NFL teams. It’s hard to find tall linemen over 300 pounds with Wilkerson’s athleticism. Though he didn’t push himself into the elite category Friday, sources said he provided further evidence that he is one of the best 3-4 ends in the draft and will most likely be a first-round pick.
Here’s a recent exclusive scouting report based on tape study of Wilkerson’s 2010 season.
Pros: Wilkerson has a well-proportioned big body – he’s not a fat fireplug and he’s able to use his natural speed in game situations. In a wide three-tech position, he can crash inside against the run very well. Splits double-teams with a strong rip move and his sheer power and is always looking to make a play in the pocket or to the sideline. Can move outside from a stop-start quickly. Mirrors the back very well in space. Extremely sudden off the snap and closes quickly to the quarterback, and he’ll also read throws outside and deflect passes.
Slides well off blocks to the ball, and he’s surprisingly adept at getting upfield to help with running plays. Sure tackler with a knack for causing turnovers. Wilkerson hasn’t just relied on overpowering inferior opponents — he’s good with his hands to disrupt and he’s always looking past the blocker to the next level. Will take up double teams and let other defenders flow through. Has the potential to stunt and disrupt inside. Can stack and shed well for a taller player.
Cons: Serious questions must be raised about the quality of his opposition — in the rare cases where he played teams with more potential high draft picks than in the MAC (Penn State in the 2010 season was a primary example), he looked lost at times and seemed to have trouble keeping up with the action — although this was mitigated to a point by the fact that he was double-teamed so often.
Wilkerson is agile enough, but he occasionally looks as if he’s on ice skates after he receives a resounding block — you’d like to see him push back more quickly. Will occasionally overshoot tackles because he’s getting through gaps as a high speed. Doesn’t always present the kind of bull rush required to upset faster tackles to get to the edge and win those battles.
Conclusion: With all the talk about the big-school bigger ends who can play various hybrid positions, Wilkerson may have one of the best skill sets to disrupt the quarterback and stop the run from the ever-more-valuable five-tech position. Kevin Colbert of the Pittsburgh Steelers (who should know) has said that finding the ideal five-tech player is a lot more than just retrofitting a guy who isn’t big enough to be a 4-3 defensive tackle; a player has to be long, quick, and have an aggressive set of moves to set the edge and blow up a tackle. Wilkerson will have to prove himself against stronger opposition, but he could excel over time in the right system.